History Through Cookbooks

According to this website:

Annual corn sweetener consumption increased to 79 pounds in 2003, up 400 percent from 1970. This steep rise in corn sweetener consumption is largely due to high-fructose corn syrup, a low-cost substitute for sugar in beverages.

When you combine sugar and corn sweeteners, in 2003 Americans consumed around 142 pounds of the stuff each.

As long ago as 1888, the author of this frugal cookbook warned:

We indulge ourselves and our children too much in what tastes good, while all the time we know we have not money enough to buy necessaries. For instance, the consumption of sugar in America was in 1887, 56 lbs. per head, in Germany hardly more than one third that amount. This means a larger consumption of sweetmeats than we can afford and at the same time be well fed otherwise

What happened between 1887 and 2003?

World War II created a sugar shortage
and corn syrup manufacturers promoted their product (with the government’s blessing) as a healthy and frugal (not to mention home-grown) substitute.

A few very successful advertising campaigns, like this one from a 1903 Lippincott’s Magazine ad (“A popular journal of general literature, science and politics”), where corn syrup is said to be superior to honey in purity and nutritive value, and also contains all the ‘nutriments of the corn grain itself (which is said as well to be the most nutritional of cereal grains’):

cornsyrup ad1

Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine

“Better than Honey for Less Money!
A bee will leave the sweetest blossoms for Karo Corn Syrup. Though lower in cost, Karo Corn Syrup is equal to honey in flavor and superior to it in purity and nutritive value.
CORN SYRUP Is a pure clear wholesome syrup made of the grain of the corn and retaining the full nutriment of this most nutritious of all cereals. The best syrup for every purpose where a syrup is used.

Sold In lOc,  25c,  and 50c friction-top tins. If you cannot Get Karo Corn Syrup at your grocer’s please send us a postal giving his name and address.
Karo in the Kitchen, a new book of original receipts written for Karo Corn Syrup sent free upon request CORN PRODUCTS CO New York and Chicago” Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine

A search for “Corn Syrup” at google books brings up a surprising number of legal documents, court records and such. This 1921 edition of the Journal of Home Economics sheds some light upon why:

Glucose is an entirely innocuous substance of equal food value with any other sugar and when sold under its proper name and for the low price that it should command is an honest and valuable foodstuff. However a prejudice against glucose as such exists in the public mind for the reasons probably of its supposedly artificial origin from starch and its lack of sweetness when substituted for cane sugar. The Com Products Company consequently desires very much to obviate the use of the word glucose on the label of their various table syrups. The fancy name Karo was adopted for one of these syrups purposely to abide by the federal law which does not require a statement of ingredients if a package food is offered under a distinctive proprietary name. But many of the states do so require an accounting. Thus in Kansas, Karo has to be described as such a per cent glucose and such a per cent cane syrup; in Wisconsin, it is necessary merely to state that the product is glucose with cane flavor; in Virginia the percentage has to be given, while in most states, the description corn and cane syrup mixture is sufficient. This case has been fought out in the supreme courts of at least two states with a favorable decision for the Com Products Company, in that the words corn syrup may be used instead of the word glucose on the label. But where is the consumer involved in this case? His prejudice against the word glucose, his knowledge of the possible cheapness of any glucose product, and his intelligent criticism of the high price of a glucose syrup explain the determined campaign of the manufacturers for the name ‘corn syrup.’ The costs of long continued litigation and of the advertising campaign to popularize the mysterious natural corn syrup assuredly do not lessen the price of the commodity itself. State food laws uniform with each other and with the federal law would obviate the whole struggle, since one decision would settle the matter for the whole.

The Journal of Home Economics By American Home Economics Association

In addition to the pictured portion of this 1909 advertisement (used in a 1909 textbook to illustrate good advertising techniques), it’s suggested that you spread it on bread and use it in place of Molasses (if Mother just tries it once, it’s ‘good-bye to the Molasses jug!’):

corn syrup ad 3

corn syrup ad2

International Library of Technology: A Series of Textbooks for Persons ..By International Textbook Company

This entry was posted in cookery, food, health, history. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.


  1. Patti
    Posted February 4, 2008 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    I wish I remember where I *JUST* read about the time that dessert became common. I love sweetened stuff and I love desserts. But I am convinced that there is something addictive about it and know that it’s a problem for me. When I stay away from carbs, I’m much more likely to be satisfied and am actually less hungry even though I’m eating less. Not saying that’s true for everyone. It also puts me in a brain fog.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted February 4, 2008 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Yuck! I’ve never liked Karo corn syrup and never use it. I don’t have even one drop in the pantry.

  3. Sarah
    Posted February 4, 2008 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I don’t recall what book I read last year (perhaps The Omnivore’s Dilemma), but whatever it was it spurned me into ridding my family’s diet of corn syrup, no easy task. The stuff is insidious. Well, not exactly insidious I suppose, unless one really pays absolutely no attention to food labels.

  4. Emily
    Posted February 4, 2008 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    My husband remembers pouring Karo syrup over his pancakes in lieu of maple syrup as a little boy. Gross!

  5. bakinchick
    Posted February 4, 2008 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Like Sarah (I’m pretty sure you read way too much about high fructose corn syrup in The Omnivore’s Dilemma), I’m working on keeping my family steered clear of the stuff as far as reasonably possible.

    I do like keeping a bit of Karo in the pantry though. A teaspoon here and there has great stabilization help in my various syrups and such.

  6. B. Durbin
    Posted February 5, 2008 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    If you live in a state with Trader Joe’s (mostly coastal and southwest), they are really good about providing a wide range of prepared foods WITHOUT all of the preservatives and high fructose corn syrup. I was rather astonished to read the list of ingredients for their boxed (foil packet) Indian food line and find that there was not one poylsyllabic designated synthetic on the whole list. (There were polysyllables, but they were the spices.)

    And they’re inexpensive, too. “Food for the overeducated and underpaid” was their founder’s ideal.

  7. Clara
    Posted February 5, 2008 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s HFCS that is the issue so much as the fact that sugar, all kinds, is in so many things that you don’t expect. We should all be aware of how much we are consuming in a day but we should just point to one over the others as the problem.

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